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Belgium find footballing calm after phoney storm

Obituaries were being written for Belgium's campaign after their opening-day defeat by Italy but they are in rude health now. Berend Scholten says he never doubted it.

Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan acknowledge Belgium's fans
Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan acknowledge Belgium's fans ©AFP/Getty Images

Dutch coach Co Adriaanse used to speak of scoreboard journalism, where opinions are formed almost solely on the basis of the result. What actually happened is disregarded.

The notion came to mind after the criticism raised at the team following their 2-0 opening-day defeat by Italy, with the glare of an unkind spotlight shining particularly strong on Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

In truth, it was not all bad – Romelu Lukaku only just missed out on an equaliser. A case of needing a lick of paint rather than demolishing the house to rebuild it. Sure enough, Marc Wilmots tweaked things for the next outing against the Republic of Ireland.

His favoured 4-2-3-1 was restored and the right side was given a new look with Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco drafted in. Under the command of De Bruyne and Hazard, the Red Devils rediscovered their wicked side with a morale-boosting 3-0 victory. With Hazard pulling the strings, a 1-0 win against Sweden on Wednesday duly sealed a last-16 spot.

Axel Witsel wary of Hungary
Axel Witsel wary of Hungary

"We had a bad start and came in for a lot of criticism, so after that is important to stick together and look ahead and that's what we did," said Jan Vertonghen. "We've shown we have the right attitude. We are willing to fight for each other and that has paid off."

So what next? Belgium's 'golden generation', bristling with talent, have added two years' worth of experience since reaching the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals in Brazil. The round of 16 is therefore just the first step, the bare minimum. Hungary await in Toulouse on Sunday.

"We're expecting a tough game because they are top of their group," Hazard told me after the match. Most of their games have been complicated but they got what they needed. They're very strong. So now, let's go to Toulouse, show how much we want it and keep our campaign going."